How To Study – Introduction

Introduction – Rules of Interpretation

What I love most about William Miller’s rules for Bible interpretation is that they are not created by man. William Miller simply references the scriptures that gave him principles which would help him understand God’s Word. In other words, the Bible contains all the keys for unlocking it’s own contents. These rules are those keys. They may not represent every single principle for study, but I believe they are the main foundation of good study and interpretation.

On each blog post for the rules I have included these things:

  • The Rule
  • Miller’s Proof Texts (and any additional texts I have found)
  • My comments about the rule
  • Spirit of Prophecy support

For those who have the  Ellen G. White Writings, Comprehensive Research Edition CD (computer database of her writings), I have included the quote references like this {EW 229.2} at the end of the quote.

Background – William Miller

William Miller grew up in the early 1800’s. The following personal testimony of William Miller, is taken from The Second Advent Manual by Apollos Hale.

“I [William Miller] was once a deist, and continued so for twelve years; and I will tell you how I came to be a deist. I was taught to read the Bible from my youth, by my father and mother, and at school. But I was taught in such a manner that it seemed to be full of contradictions, I used to go to our minister, when he called at our house, and ask him what such and such texts meant, and how to reconcile those which appeared so contradictory. He would say, ‘You cannot understand it.’ I would ask, Do you understand it? ‘No,’ he would say. Well, did God mean to keep us in the dark? O, it is, revealed in a mystical manner.’ But is not God a wise God? and could not he make it plain? Is he not just and good, and will he punish us for not understanding that which is a mystery They at last would have nothing to do with me. I looked upon the Bible as priestcraft, and became a deist. I continued so till I came out of the service. I was in the army two years and a half.

In the month of May, 1816, I was brought under conviction, and O, what horror filled my soul! I forgot to eat. The heavens appeared like brass, and the earth like iron. Thus I continued till October, when God opened my eyes; and O, my soul, what a Saviour I discovered Jesus to be! My sins fell like a burden from my soul: and then how plain the Bible seemed to me! It all spoke of Jesus; he was in every page and every line. O, that was a happy day! I wanted to go right home to heaven; Jesus was all to me, and I thought I could make everybody else see him as I saw him, but I was mistaken.

During, the twelve years I was a deist, I read all histories I could find; but now I loved the Bible It taught of Jesus! But still there was a good deal of the Bible that was dark to me. In 1818 or 19, while conversing with a friend! To whom I made a visit, and who had known and heart me talk while I was a deist, he inquired, in rather a significant manner, ‘What do you think of this text, and that?’ referring to the old texts I objected to while a deist. I understood what he was about, and replied-If you will give me time, I will tell you what they mean. ‘How long time do you want?’ I don’t know, but I will tell you, I replied, for I could not believe that God had given a revelation that could not be understood I then resolved to study my Bible, believing I could find out what the Holy Spirit meant. But as soon as I had formed this resolution the thought came to me-‘Suppose you find a passage that you cannot understand, what will you do?’ This mode of studying the Bible then came to my mind:-I will take the words of such passages, and trace them through the Bible, and find out their meaning in this way. I had Cruden’s Concordance, which I think is the best in the world; so I took that and my Bible, and set down to my desk, and read nothing else, except the newspapers a little, for I was determined to know what my Bible meant. I began at Genesis, and read on slowly; and when I came to a text that I could could [sic] not understand, I searched through the Bible to find out what it meant. After I had gone through the Bible in this way, O, how bright and glorious the truth appeared! I found what I have been preaching to you. I was satisfied that the seven times terminated in 1843. Then I came to the 2300 days; they brought me to the same conclusion; but I had no thought of finding out when the Saviour was coming, and I could not believe it; but the light struck me so forcibly I did not know what to do. Now, I thought, I must put on spurs and breeching; I will not go faster than the Bible, and I will not fall behind it. Whatever the Bible teaches, I will hold on to it. But still there were some texts that I could nor understand.” {1843 ApH, TSAM 65.1 – 65.3}

– The Second Advent Manual

Ellen White gives us further insight into this experience of William Miller. The curtain is pushed aside and we see the role that angels of God played in the process of Miller’s study as he came to understand the Word of God.

“God sent His angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, to lead him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, to guide his mind and open to his understanding prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people. The commencement of the chain of truth was given to him, and he was led on to search for link after link, until he looked with wonder and admiration upon the Word of God. He saw there a perfect chain of truth. That Word which he had regarded as uninspired now opened before his vision in its beauty and glory. He saw that one portion of Scripture explains another, and when one passage was closed to his understanding, he found in another part of the Word that which explained it. He regarded the sacred Word of God with joy and with the deepest respect and awe.

As he followed down the prophecies, he saw that the inhabitants of the earth were living in the closing scenes of this world’s history, yet they knew it not. He looked at the churches and saw that they were corrupt; they had taken their affections from Jesus and placed them on the world; they were seeking for worldly honor, instead of that honor which cometh from above; grasping for worldly riches, instead of laying up their treasure in heaven. He could see hypocrisy, darkness, and death everywhere. His spirit was stirred within him. God called him to leave his farm, as He called Elisha to leave his oxen and the field of his labor to follow Elijah. With trembling, William Miller began to unfold to the people the mysteries of the kingdom of God, carrying his hearers down through the prophecies to the second advent of Christ. With every effort he gained strength. As John the Baptist heralded the first advent of Jesus and prepared the way for His coming, so William Miller and those who joined with him proclaimed the second advent of the Son of God.”

– Early Writings, p. 229 par. 1-2 {EW 229.1 – 229.2}

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: Commencement means – Beginning; rise; origin; first existence

“If Daniel’s visions had been understood, the people could better have understood the visions of John. But at the right time, God moved upon His chosen servant, who, with clearness and in the power of the Holy Spirit, opened the prophecies and showed the harmony of the visions of Daniel and John and other portions of the Bible, and pressed home upon the hearts of the people the sacred, fearful warnings of the Word to prepare for the coming of the Son of man. Deep and solemn conviction rested upon the minds of those who heard him, and ministers and people, sinners and infidels, turned to the Lord and sought a preparation to stand in the judgment.

Angels of God accompanied William Miller in his mission. He was firm and undaunted, fearlessly proclaiming the message committed to his trust. A world lying in wickedness and a cold, worldly church were enough to call into action all his energies and lead him willingly to endure toil, privation, and suffering. Although opposed by professed Christians and the world, and buffeted by Satan and his angels, he ceased not to preach the everlasting gospel to crowds wherever he was invited, sounding far and near the cry, “Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come.”

– Early Writings, p. 231-232 {EW 231.2 – 232.1}

Why was it so important for William Miller to understand Daniel and Revelation?

To Daniel God revealed the light of His purposes, which had been hidden for many generations. He chose that Daniel should see in vision the light of His truth, and reflect this light on the proud kingdom of Babylon. On the despot king was permitted to flash light from the throne of God. Nebuchadnezzar was shown that the God of heaven was ruler over all the monarchs and kings of earth. …”

– S.D.A. Bible Commentary Volume 4, p. 1169 {4BC 1169.3}

“The Bible was designed to be a guide to all who wish to become acquainted with the will of their Maker. God gave to men the sure word of prophecy; angels and even Christ Himself came to make known to Daniel and John the things that must shortly come to pass. Those important matters that concern our salvation were not left involved in mystery. They were not revealed in such a way as to perplex and mislead the honest seeker after truth. Said the Lord by the prophet Habakkuk: “Write the vision, and make it plain, . . . that he may run that readeth it.” Habakkuk 2:2. The word of God is plain to all who study it with a prayerful heart. Every truly honest soul will come to the light of truth. “Light is sown for the righteous.” Psalm 97:11. And no church can advance in holiness unless its members are earnestly seeking for truth as for hid treasure.”

– Darkness Before Dawn, p. 7 par. 5 {DD 7.5}

Despite God’s leading in William Miller’s study and his conclusions of the prophecies, there were opponents to the message he was giving.

“But the word of God was the only testimony accepted by the advocates of truth. “The Bible and the Bible only,” was their watchword. The weakness of all arguments brought against them, revealed to Adventists the strength of the foundation upon which they stood. At the same time it angered their opponents, who, for want of stronger weapons, resorted to personal abuse. Grave doctors of divinity sneered at Wm. Miller as an unlearned and feeble adversary. Because he explained the visions of Daniel and John, he was denounced as a man of fanciful ideas, who made visions and dreams his hobby. The plainest statements of Bible facts, which could not be controverted, were met with the cry of heresy, ignorance, stupidity, insolence.”

– The Spirit of Prophecy Volume 4, p. 212 par. 3 {4SP 212.3}

But William Miller did not deserve the denunciations of his opponents. This is what we are told of his character…

“William Miller possessed strong mental powers, disciplined by thought and study; and he added to these the wisdom of heaven by connecting himself with the Source of wisdom. He was a man of sterling worth, who could not but command respect and esteem wherever integrity of character and moral excellence were valued. Uniting true kindness of heart with Christian humility and the power of self-control, he was attentive and affable to all, ready to listen to the opinions of others and to weigh their arguments. Without passion or excitement he tested all theories and doctrines by the word of God, and his sound reasoning and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures enabled him to refute error and expose falsehood.”

– The Great Controversy, p. 335 par. 2 {GC 335.2}

William Miller’s Method of Study

An excerpt about William Miller, from the Pioneer Authors on the EGW CD, James White, Life Incidents

“His [William Miller’s] manner of studying the Bible is thus described by himself: ‘I determined to lay aside all my prepossessions, to thoroughly compare Scripture with Scripture, and to pursue its study in a regular, methodical manner. I commenced with Genesis, and read verse by verse, proceeding no faster than the meaning of the several passages should be so unfolded as to leave me free from embarrassment respecting any mysticisms or contradictions. Whenever I found anything obscure, my practice was to compare it will all collateral passages; and, by the help of Cruden, I examined all the texts of Scripture in which were found any of the prominent words contained in any obscure portion. Then, by letting every word have its proper bearing on the subject of the text, if my view of it harmonized with every collateral passage in the Bible, it ceased to be a difficulty. In this way I pursued the study of the Bible, in my first perusal of it, for about two years, and was fully satisfied that it is its own interpreter. I found that by a comparison of Scripture with history, all the prophecies, as far as they have been fulfilled, had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similitudes, etc., of the Bible, were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other portions of the word; and when thus explained, are to be literally understood in accordance with such explanation. I was thus satisfied that the Bible is a system of revealed truths, so clearly and simply given, that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.'”

Laying aside prepossessions:

“The Bible is not given to us in grand superhuman language. Jesus, in order to reach man where he is, took humanity. The Bible must be given in the language of men. Everything that is human is imperfect. Different meanings are expressed by the same word; there is not one word for each distinct idea. The Bible was given for practical purposes.

The stamps of minds are different. All do not understand expressions and statements alike. Some understand the statements of the Scriptures to suit their own particular minds and cases. Prepossessions, prejudices, and passions have a strong influence to darken the understanding and confuse the mind even in reading the words of Holy Writ.”

– Selected Messages Book 1, p. 20 par. 2-3 {1SM 20.2 – 20.3}

“Endeavoring to lay aside all preconceived opinions, and dispensing with commentaries, he compared scripture with scripture by the aid of the marginal references and the concordance. He pursued his study in a regular and methodical manner; beginning with Genesis, and reading verse by verse, he proceeded no faster than the meaning of the several passages so unfolded as to leave him free from all embarrassment. When he found anything obscure, it was his custom to compare it with every other text which seemed to have any reference to the matter under consideration. Every word was permitted to have its proper bearing upon the subject of the text, and if his view of it harmonized with every collateral passage, it ceased to be a difficulty. Thus whenever he met with a passage hard to be understood, he found an explanation in some other portion of the Scriptures. As he studied with earnest prayer for divine enlightenment, that which had before appeared dark to his understanding was made clear. He experienced the truth of the psalmist’s words, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” [Psalm 119:130.]

After two years of careful investigation, he was fully satisfied, that the Bible is its own interpreter; that it is a system of revealed truths so clearly and simply given that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein; that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;” [2 Timothy 3:16.] that “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;” [2 Peter 1:21.] that it was written “for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” [Romans 15:4.]

With intense interest he studied the books of Daniel and the Revelation, employing the same principles of interpretation as in the other scriptures, and found, to his great joy, that the prophetic symbols could be understood. Angels of Heaven were guiding his mind, and opening to his understanding prophecies which had ever been dark to God’s people. Link after link of the chain of truth rewarded his efforts; step by step he traced down the great lines of prophecy, until he reached the solemn conclusion that in a few years the Son of God would come the second time, in power and glory, and that the events connected with that coming and the close of human probation would take place about the year 1843. […]”

– The Spirit of Prophecy Volume 4, p. 204-205 {4SP 204.2 – 205.2}

“With intense interest he studied the book of Daniel and the Revelation, employing the same principles of interpretation as in the other scriptures, and found, to his great joy, that the prophetic symbols could be understood. He saw that the prophecies, so far as they had been fulfilled, had been fulfilled literally; that all the various figures, metaphors, parables, similitudes, etc., were either explained in their immediate connection, or the terms in which they were expressed were defined in other scriptures; and when thus explained were to be literally understood. “Thus I was satisfied,” he says, “that the Bible was a system of revealed truth so clearly and simply given that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.” Link after link of the chain of truth rewarded his efforts, as step by step he traced down the great lines of prophecy. Angels of Heaven were guiding his mind and opening the Scriptures to his understanding.”

– The Great Controversy (1888 edition), p. 320 par. 2 {GC88 320.2}

For more information about William Miller, see also:

The Spirit of Prophecy Volume 4, Chapter 13, William Miller

The Great Controversy, Chapter 18, An American Reformer. (Same in 1888 edition)


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